For the sake of full transparency, I want to start this review by revealing that I've never seen the John Wayne version of True Grit nor have I read the novel by Charles Portis. I've come to the Coen Brothers take on True Grit with a completely open mind, and after the credits rolled, I must say I was blown away. This is hands down the best movie I've seen this year.
True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross (relative newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) and her quest to avenge her father's death at the hands of the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). In her quest, she enlists a drunken, but mean U.S. Marshall by the name of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges in another Oscar worthy role) and a Texas Ranger named Mr. LaBoeuf (Matt Damon). While she chose Rooster to help track down her father's killer because of his "true grit," there is more than one occasion where the 14-year-old shows some grit of her own. In fact, the scenes where Steinfeld shines as Mattie include her negotiations with Rooster, the Undertaker, and the man who had some dealings regarding horses before his murder. Mattie is tough as nails and completely engaging. After watching Steinfeld in this movie, I'm expecting great things for her career and can't wait to see what she does next.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn. In a nutshell, if you liked Bridges in Crazy Heart and think he deserved an Oscar for that role, then there's no point in betting against him come Oscar season because his performance as Rooster blows Crazy Heart out of the water. As Rooster, Bridges shows just the right balance of drunkenness, aggression, anger, humor, and ultimately compassion and self-sacrifice. On the outside, Rooster is just a wise-cracking drunk filled with plenty of fun one-liners, but as you peel back the layers, he's a very dynamic character and Bridges did a phenomenal job of balancing all the different aspects of Rooster's character. While Bridges and Steinfeld steal the show throughout the movie, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper (unrecognizable as Lucky Ned) round off an amazing ensemble cast.
I really appreciate how serious the Coen Brothers took making this film. Their signature quirk has been toned down significantly, and instead they worked on a masterful script that is equal parts funny, action-packed, dramatic, and emotionally intense. With a revenge movie like this, it's easy to cross the line into camp or melodrama. The Coen Brothers never do. I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie and found myself rooting for Mattie for the entire movie.
Aside from a brilliant script and actors, I also want to point out the beautiful cinematography. The Coen Brothers did an amazing job of using the camera to really make the Wild West come to life. While almost every shot in this film was amazing, the shots that I still remember since I saw the movie include the horses. There are a few close-ups of the horses throughout the movie that are not only awe-inspiring and help move the story along, but they're also some of the best filmed scenes I've seen in years.
True Grit has it all and has no flaws in my eyes. In fact, I'm even willing to say it's one of the Coen Brothers best movies to date. I would even go as far as saying it's the best Western to come out since 1992's Unforgiven. You owe it to yourself to see True Grit in the theatre.
Rating: FOUR BONES
Release Date: December 22nd, 2010
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Barry Pepper, Bruce Green, and Dakin Matthews
Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Writers: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen